DRESDEN, Germany At the Semicon Europa the recent EU move to recognize information and communication technologies as 'Key Enabling Technologies' stirred many discussions. Surprisingly, what the industry is calling for in the first place is not money. At least not money alone: It is more about leadership.
The EU Commission's white paper, which among other recognizes the semiconductor industry as a strategic one for Europe, was hailed across the board at the fair. After all, in Dresden the Qimonda disaster still is in everybody's mind. But executives from other European countries also praised the paper not so much because it promises a monetary windfall for the industry but because many finally see a signal of recognition and a move into the right direction by the Commission. "Policy makers have the end product in view, they don't recognize the complexity of the value chain," explained Jens Drews, Director for Government Relations at Globalfoundries, in a press roundtable.
Against the background of the European semiconductor industry constantly losing market share globally, the EU move is regarded as helpful by chip industry pundits. "Europe has lost its attractiveness to investors," admitted Enrico Villa, Chairman of the board for the Medea+ research initiative and Senior Advisor to the STMicroelectronics top management. In order to regain the lost attractiveness aforementioned, Villa proposed measures that should be taken by all stakeholders. "We need one industry policy here in Europe", he said. "Currently we don't have this. Each country has its own policy."
Villa argued that in terms of manufacturing Europe and North America are sitting in the same boat, referring to the ongoing trend to move manufacturing activities to Asia. In this context, he quoted studies showing that 70 percent of the difference on ROI between western countries and ASIA in chip manufacturing activities result from different taxing and thus from political reasons.
Globalfoundries' Drews referred to the support his company has experienced from the state of New York where Globalfoundries currently is in the process of building a new fab. "The state of New York has demonstrated its will to create an ecosystem [for the chip industry]", he said, corroborating his stance that political support is an important factor for investment and location decisions.
The roundtable participants agreed that Europe's industry has strengths which it needs to extend and expand. Market researcher Malcolm Penn, CEO of Future Horizons, named plastic electronics, photovoltaics and automotive. "In automotive electronics, Europe's industry is much more advanced than the US and even more advanced than Japan. Gambling away this lead would be equivalent to committing suicide," Penn said.
Other promising fields of activity for the European semiconductor industry are renewable energies and the ageing population and electronic means to master the challenges associated with it, Villa said.
But expertise is not enough, countered SEMI Europe president Heinz Kundert, bringing up a different aspect. "Europe has always been strong in inventing, but the money has been made elsewhere," Kundert remarked. "Decision making in Europe is too fragmented, it takes much too long. The question is what we want. Do we have a European vision?" He asked rhetorically. "Europe needs to speak with one voice. Let's pull all these loose ends together."
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